The Tsartlip First Nation expressed outrage this week after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact that the First Nation chose not to make public after witnessing the racism faced by the Cowichan Tribes after an outbreak there.
On March 2, Olsen, the representative for Saanich North and the Islands, shared on social media that the Tsartlip had been under shelter-in-place orders for several weeks and that all adults would be receiving a vaccine dose shortly. He added that as a member and resident of the nation, he too would be vaccinated on March 3.
I am a member and resident of Tsartlip, I will receive my vaccine on Wednesday March 3, 2021.
I am providing this information about getting vaccinated earlier than anticipated because I believe transparency is critical. 3/
— Adam Olsen (@AdamPOlsen) March 3, 2021
In a public statement on Thursday, Chief Don Tom called Olsen’s announcement “highly offensive” and said the MLA had overstepped his role. He said the Tsartlip First Nation experienced an outbreak at the end of January and members were ordered to shelter-in-place starting Feb. 8. He said the last positive test was on Feb. 6 and that the nation currently has no active cases of COVID-19.
“Tsartlip has a right to self-determination, we cannot have an MLA misrepresenting our First Nation, and taking liberties to make public statements without consulting Tsartlip,” Tom said, adding that Olsen owed the community a public apology.
The same day, Olsen called Tom to offer his “unreserved apology” and shared an open letter on social media acknowledging it is not his role as an MLA to speak on behalf of the nation.
“I know these past weeks have been an incredibly difficult time for our community and I’m devastated that my actions have increased anxiety,” he wrote. “You have my commitment that this situation will not be repeated, and I fully accept your frustration and anger with my actions.”
Tom emphasized that the Tsartlip First Nation had specifically chosen to keep the outbreak private after witnessing the “cruel racism” members of the Cowichan Tribes experienced after an outbreak was declared in January. The Cowichan Tribes issued a stay-at-home order until Jan. 22 after more than 70 COVID-19 cases were reported.
According to Derek Thompson, Cowichan Tribes general manager, racism towards members of the First Nation increased immediately after the outbreak was disclosed.
“We chose to not subject Tsartlip members to this and kept our outbreak status private,” Tom said, noting that after Olsen revealed the situation, the First Nation was forced to address the outbreak publicly and clarify the situation. “Our membership now feel angst and worry for their social well-being.”
-With files from the Canadian Press